The study aimed at assessing whether detection of IgE specific to cow and swine allergens can be used as a screening tool for farmers' occupational eczema. Serum samples were taken from 51 farmers. The farmers were questioned about work-related skin symptoms using a nurse-administered questionnaire, verified by a dermatologist. Sera of 29 cow breeders were tested for IgE antibodies specific to cow dander and bovine serum albumin. Sera of 22 swine breeders were tested for IgE specific to swine epithelium, swine serum albumin, and swine urine proteins.
Among cow breeders, IgE specific to cow dander was found in one farmer. Among swine breeders, IgE specific to swine epithelium was found also in one subject. On first examination, the cow breeder complained of slight itching of the conjunctivae while working in a cow barn and had no other allergic symptoms. One year later, however, he noticed episodes of hand eczema after contact with cows. In the IgE-positive swine breeder, only mild stationary psoriasis, and no work-related symptoms were found. Among the remaining 28 IgE-negative cow breeders, 11 complained of skin symptoms, but these were not related to working with cows; among 21 IgE-negative swine breeders, 7 subjects had skin diseases, none of which were related to working with swine.
We conclude that detection of animal antigen-specific IgE may be an useful screening tool, although an exact assessment of sensitivity and specificity of the method in a larger population of exposed farmers will be required.
KEY WORDS: farmers, occupational dermatoses, animal allergens, cow dander, pig epithelium, specific IgE antibodies, screening, serological methods.
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